Great Response

After gut-wrenching OT loss, Pistons bounce back to win at Indy

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – It didn’t take long for the Pistons to stare down their ghosts. One night after suffering a heart-wrenching loss to Portland in overtime, the Pistons held off an impassioned Indiana run to hand the Pacers their first home loss of the season, 101-96. Indiana, now 20-4, cut a seven-point lead with less than two minutes left to two but the Pistons didn’t wilt against the league’s best team. The Pistons scored 79 points through the first three quarters against the NBA’s top defense, which averages 89 points surrendered, and held MVP candidate Paul George to 17 on 4 of 14 shooting. Josh Smith, one night after scoring a Pistons career-high 31 points, came back with 30 to lead the Pistons, but his biggest play might have come when he blocked a David West layup from behind with under a minute to play and the Pistons protecting a four-point lead. Brandon Jennings made several big plays in the fourth quarter and finished with 18 points and eight assists, while Greg Monroe had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

BLUE COLLAR – Given the long minutes played by several Pistons in Sunday’s overtime loss to Portland, Andre Drummond’s foul trouble and the unavailability of Chauncey Billups, Mo Cheeks – never one to be shy about lineup experimentation – got creative and used plenty of Kyle Singler at power forward and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at small forward. It presented challenges for both against physically imposing matcups, Luis Scola for Singler and Paul George for Caldwell-Pope. Both players held up remarkably well on defense, though, buying minutes for Josh Smith and Greg Monroe on the bench.

RED FLAG – At tipoff, Rodney Stuckey had bags of ice strapped to both his left knee and right shoulder. The Pistons’ most consistent scoring threat all season, Stuckey went scoreless in 11 first-half minutes and played only briefly in the second half before being pulled. The Pistons get Tuesday off before playing at Boston on Wednesday. They’ll have Chauncey Billups available then, but Stuckey’s been the key figure on Detroit’s second unit. Replacing his scoring would be a challenge, though Will Bynum’s return from injury also helps in that regard.


infographic_131216.jpg
INDIANAPOLIS — So much for the lingering effects of the season’s most devastating loss.

After losing a spirit-crushing overtime game to Portland on Sunday night at The Palace, the Pistons fired a shot across the NBA’s bow Monday night in Indiana. They dented the league’s best defense for 101 points – 12 above Indiana’s average yield – and handed the Pacers their first home loss of the season.

They did it with Rodney Stuckey going scoreless in just 16 minutes after opening the game with ice bags strapped to both his left knee and right shoulder. They did it with Andre Drummond limited to three first-half minutes by foul trouble. And they did it with Chauncey Billups in street clothes, part of his regimen for back-to-back sets.

“It was a little hard for me to sleep last night, but we came here and kept playing basketball,” said Brandon Jennings, who scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter of the 101-96 win, just Indiana’s fourth loss in 24 games. “This is the NBA. One thing about the NBA is you’ve got a game the next day or the next day. It’s not like the NFL, where you have to wait a whole week.”

Mo Cheeks, who’s lived the ebb and flow of NBA life for nearly four decades, wore the thousand-yard stare after the 109-107 overtime loss to Portland. Roundball One carried a somber group to America’s heartland Sunday night. Indiana is about as tough, mentally and physically, as it gets in the NBA. If the Pistons had come out showing any residual lack of will or confidence, it would’ve gotten ugly fast at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

But the Pistons led from wire to wire. And even if they wouldn’t have scripted another tense fourth quarter, it was good for them to stare down their ghosts and withstand the predictable fourth-quarter charge from a team that’s made no attempt to conceal its zest to capture home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by compiling the best regular-season record.

“I think this was kind of a character game for us,” said Greg Monroe, who registered 13 points, 12 boards and two blocked shots. We definitely had a chance to win that game last night and tonight we knew we had another tough test against another good team. We did a great job of coming out and playing well tonight.”

"Tonight was a character game. We had a chance to win last night, so we knew tonight was going to be a test against a tough team and we were able to get the win."

- Greg Monroe on the win
Full game quotes
For the second straight night, nobody played better than Josh Smith. After laying a season-best 31 points on Portland, Smith came back with 30 points, seven boards and two blocks against Indiana. The last block, a ferocious from-behind swat of a David West layup to preserve a four-point lead in the final minute, was symbolic of the Pistons’ resolve all night.

“We keep putting him on the block and he’s being aggressive, attacking the rim,” Cheeks said. “He’s getting a ton of opportunities. He’s just playing a full basketball game. That last play, that drive to the rim, he ended up blocking it off the backboard. He’s just playing great right now.”

Cheeks had a large hand in the effort and the outcome, as well. He told the Pistons before the game to have “a little amnesia. Sometimes you win a game, you’ve got to get on a plane and play the next night. And sometimes you lose a game like we played and we still have to come play and we ended up having to come play a team like the Indiana Pacers. We had to just put our hat on again and start over. And that’s what we did.”

Cheeks made some bold moves, some born of necessity. With Drummond in deep foul trouble early, Josh Harrellson contributed nine rebounds in the first half alone to go with seven points. Cheeks put 6-foot-5 rookie on the much taller Paul George whenever Smith sat and George was held well in check, shooting just 4 of 14.

“Then we pulled Jonas (Jerebko, who hit a buzzer-beating three at halftime to complete a 7-0 run to end the half for a 56-49 lead) off the bench and he did a nice job,” Cheeks said. “Our bench guys did a nice job of either holding or extending the lead. When you’re coming off a back to back like the Portland game and playing these guys, it’s going to be a tough game for us.”

Down the stretch, Jennings had the ball in his hands, reflecting a talk he and Cheeks had earlier in the day about the need for him to make plays and be aggressive in the closing minutes of tight games.

“From here on out, last five minutes, I definitely want the ball in my hands,” Jennings said. “Not necessarily shooting, but making plays and trying to get us the best possible shots. The first three quarters, anyone can play. But the last five is what really counts and we showed that tonight.”

It was all set up for the Pistons to lose another heartbreaker with a loud, rowdy crowd at full throat behind a team that fancies itself fairly invincible. This time, they pushed back and beat a 20-3 team in its building. It sure can’t hurt to have that in the memory bank for future such situations.

“It’s great we won the game like that after having a game against Portland like that, but in the NBA, there are going to be games where you lead and you have to be able to hold that lead,” Cheeks said. “You know they’re going to come back. C’mon, the way this team has been playing, you know they’re going to make a run. We just held our composure and we made shots, we made foul shots and we ended up winning the game.”

And they left to ponder how close they came to a remarkable achievement: beating the top team in each conference within 24 hours.

“I wish we would’ve gotten both,” Jennings said. “I think we all do. But it’s a lesson learned. We don’t ever want to make those mistakes again.”